Last legislative session, both Democrats and Republicans in Maine voted down provisions that would have required a criminal background check for most people buying guns and instituted a 72-hour waiting period. (Sergio Flores/Bloomberg, Getty Images)
Following a mass shooting in Lewiston on Wednesday night in which 18 people were killed and 13 were wounded, proponents of gun policy reform pointed out that it remains far too easy to obtain a firearm in Maine and called for stricter safety laws.
As Mainers grappled with the tragedy, among the worst mass shootings in U.S. history — and with a manhunt still underway for suspect Robert Card of Bowdoin — policymakers and advocates said more can and must be done to protect against gun violence in the state.
According to the group Everytown for Gun Safety, Maine has “very few foundational gun safety laws.” The state lacks basic statutes that would help prevent gun violence, such as background checks for all firearm sales, waiting periods, a “red flag” law that could help prevent someone having a crisis from getting a gun, and permitting requirements for carrying a firearm, the organization found.
Maine also doesn’t have assault weapon restrictions or a ban on large-capacity magazines, the group stated.
All this adds up to a state where it is too easy to get a gun, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found, giving Maine an F grade for the strength of its firearm safety laws.
Swift action is needed to address that situation, some policymakers said Thursday.
“It’s unconscionable, it’s heart-wrenching, and we can and must do more,” said Rep. Lori Gramlich (D-Old Orchard Beach), a member of the legislature’s gun safety caucus.
Gramlich said while she understands that Maine has an outdoor tradition that involves gun ownership, there are common-sense steps lawmakers can take to keep people safe while still respecting that heritage.
“I respect that people hunt. But last time I checked, you don’t hunt with an assault weapon — those are not hunting tools, those are weapons of death and weapons of war,” she said. “And I personally don’t see any reason for those weapons to be on the street in the hands of citizens.”
Gramlich said she’s open to “anything and everything” that could prevent future mass shootings in Maine, including legislation to limit or prohibit the sale of assault weapons. And she said she is seriously looking into introducing some sort of emergency gun safety legislation in the upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Dan Ankeles (D-Brunswick) also called for action. At the very least, Ankeles said lawmakers should resuscitate measures that failed in the legislature earlier this year — due to opposition from Republicans and some Democrats — that would have required a criminal background check for most people buying guns and instituted a 72-hour waiting period after the purchase of a gun before the person actually receives it. Yet another bill that was voted down last session would have banned rapid-fire modification devices, which were used in a 2017 Las Vegas shooting in which 60 people were killed.At a press conference Thursday morning, state officials declined to provide any information about the large rifle that a photo circulated to media showed the suspect wielding during the attack.
“We can’t just be complacent about this, we have to do something. And I feel like 186 of us have some serious voting to do in the coming weeks,” Ankeles said, referring to the membership of the legislature.
A common argument against gun policy reform in Maine in the past has been that mass shootings simply wouldn’t happen here. As U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told reporters Thursday, “It is just so hard to believe such a heinous attack could occur in our state.”
Ankeles said Wednesday’s events puncture that narrative.
“I don’t feel it is too soon to say that I hope people now realize that Maine is not a magical place that is immune to our nation’s gun violence epidemic,” he said.
In fact, Maine has experienced gun violence before, although not on the scale of the tragedy in Lewiston on Wednesday. Just earlier this year, four people died in a mass shooting in Bowdoin. In all, there have now been more than 10 mass shootings in Maine since 2011 and the state has a rate of gun deaths higher than any other place in the northeast.
Along with Gramlich and Ankeles, members of Lewiston’s legislative delegation also weighed in on Wednesday’s events, releasing statements on the shooting and the need for action.
“My heart grieves deeply for my community and for those who were killed, injured or are mourning the loss of loved ones in this senseless and preventable tragedy. To have this happen in my hometown is both surreal and heartbreaking,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, a Democrat.
“This has only strengthened my own resolve to do whatever I can to help prevent similar tragedies like this from happening again in other communities,” Cloutier added. “As a state, we must do more to address gun violence and keep ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors safe. Words are not enough — they never have been. We must take bold action.”
Limited changes to Maine’s gun laws over the years
There have been some small changes to Maine gun laws over the years. For example, in 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed a “yellow-flag” bill into law, which allowed officials to temporarily take a gun from someone if a medical evaluation and a court order based on statements of law enforcement or family identified someone as an immediate threat. However, that measure — which is weaker than a red-flag law — came after Mills worked with the Sportsman Alliance of Maine (SAM) to narrow the proposed measure.
Furthermore, Mills signed legislation in 2023 that made it a Class D crime to knowingly or intentionally sell a firearm to a person prohibited from having a gun. Gramlich noted that lawmakers have also approved bills in recent years to track gun fatalities and ensure the safe storage of firearms.
Still, during her campaign for reelection in 2022, Mills said she was opposed to a stronger red-flag law, and the Democratic governor received an A grade from the anti-gun control group SAM.
On Thursday, the governor expressed condolences to everyone impacted by the shooting. “I know that the people of Lewiston are enduring immeasurable pain. I wish I could take that pain from you, but I promise you this, we will all help you carry this grief,” the governor said.
However, Mills’ office did not respond to a request for comment about whether she supports strengthening the state’s gun control laws.
The office of Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), who voted against the background check bill introduced in the legislature earlier this year, also did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would support gun policy reforms.
And in a statement released to Maine Morning Star on Thursday morning via her spokesperson, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) said it is “premature to comment on any new legislation.” However, the statement noted that Talbot Ross, who introduced the background check bill, has “always been, and will remain, a staunch supporter of common sense, gun safety reform.”
As a result, heading into the new session of the legislature that officially begins later this year, it’s unclear exactly what reforms will be considered or passed.
But after Wednesday’s tragedy, advocates said policymakers must do something.
“Our hearts are broken for the community and the loved ones of those impacted in this senseless tragedy,” said Kathleen McFadden, a volunteer and co-chapter leader for the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Bowling night, dinner with friends, supermarket trips, and school drop-offs should be safe places free from gun violence. We won’t sit idly by as this crisis tears our communities apart and will continue to demand action every single day until we are safe from gun violence once and for all.”
Federal officials release statements on shooting
Maine’s federal delegation also weighed in on Wednesday’s shooting, offering their thoughts and condolences. None mentioned potential changes to gun laws as of Thursday morning, although Rep. Chellie Pingree has supported reforms in the past.
Collins, a Republican, came under particular scrutiny for her statement, given her record of voting against Senate measures to ban the sale of assault weapons and limit magazine capacity, although she did back a bipartisan gun reform measure passed in 2022.
President Joe Biden also released a statement Thursday, offering the assistance of the federal government as Maine deals with the tragedy.
In his remarks, Biden reiterated calls for stronger federal gun regulations, which congressional Republicans have blocked.
“Today, in the wake of yet another tragedy, I urge Republican lawmakers in Congress to fulfill their duty to protect the American people,” Biden said. “Work with us to pass a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, to enact universal background checks, to require safe storage of guns, and end immunity from liability for gun manufacturers. This is the very least we owe every American who will now bear the scars — physical and mental — of this latest attack.”
Maine Morning Star and Oregon Capital Chronicle are part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Maine Morning Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lauren McCauley for questions: [email protected]. Follow Maine Morning Star on Facebook and Twitter.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.